Lieutenant General ® Srinivas Kumar Sinha (January 1926 – 17 November 2016)
Lieutenant General ® Srinivas Kumar (S. K.) Sinha passed away on 17 November 2016. He was member of a generation of Indian officers who joined Indian army during the Raj. He spent a long and successful army career and after retirement spent three decades writing about military affairs.
Sinha was born in a prominent family in Gaya, Bihar. His grandfather Alakh Kumar (A. K.) Sinha served a long and illustrious career in police service. He was the first Indian police officer to serve as Inspector General of Police (IGP) of Bihar. Sinha’s father, Mithilesh Kumar (M. K.) Sinha also joined police service and rose to the rank of Inspector General of Police (IGP) of Bihar. In 1946, M. K. Sinha was one of the two Indians to serve in Intelligence Bureau (IB). The second Indian was G. Ahmad who later headed IB in Pakistan. S. K. Sinha decided to join army during the tail end of the Second World War. The early influence was from his father’s two orderlies. Rahmat Shah and Babu Jan had served as cavalry sowars during First World War and Sinha learned about army life and stories of war in his early childhood from them. His paternal uncle N. K. Sinha (later Colonel) was an army officer and this may have influenced Sinha to join army. He joined Officer’s Training School (OTS) in Belgaum in 1944 and granted emergency commission on 10 December 1944. After jungle training with 7/9 Jat Regiment, he was posted to 6/9 Jat Regiment in Burma. He embarked on a troopship at Calcutta that was taking a draft of 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment (now 6 FF of Pakistan army). When he reached Rangoon, 6/9 Jat Regiment had gone back to India for a short relief. He stayed with 4/12 FFR for about two weeks until 6/9 Jat Regiment returned to Burma. He served with Punjabi Muslim company of 6/9 Jat Regiment. War ended soon and Sinha found himself guarding Japanese prisoner of war camp.
Sinha’s emergency commission was regularized after the war and he spent next few years in different staff positions at the rank of captain. In 1950, he came back to regimental life when he was posted to 3/4th Gorkha Rifles. After completing his staff college course, he joined 3/5th Gorkha Rifles. He went to England for Joint Services Staff College (JSSC) course and on his return appointed Commanding Officer (CO) of 3/5th Gorkha Rifles. He commanded 71 Mountain Brigade at Brigadier rank and GOC of 23 Mountain Division at Major General rank only for about a year when he was appointed Director Military Intelligence (DMI). He was appointed GOC of 10th Infantry Division in 1976. He was promoted to Lieutenant General rank and served as Adjutant General (AG), GOC of the Strike Corps at Chandimandar, GOC-in-C of Western Command and finally Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS).
Sinha was at the center of a controversy when government superseded him and appointed Arun Shridhar Vaidya (Deccan Horse) as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to succeed General K. V. Krishna Rao (2 Mahar Regiment). Krishna Rao gave his version of the incident in his memoirs. He narrates that sometime before his retirement; Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called him and specifically asked him who should be his successor. He asked for some time to review the files of senior officers. He reviewed the files of officers and then recommended that Vaidya should succeed him. However, a careful evaluation of events of that time period raises many questions about this narrative. Sinha and Rao were close friends for few decades. Rao brought Sinha as Western Army Commander and according to Sinha told him that he would not only be taking over Western Command from him but also later take over from him in Delhi. In January 1983, Sinha was brought to army headquarters as Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) to prepare him to take over from Rao. Rao asked his Principle Staff Officers (PSOs) to work through Sinha so that he was in the picture. Normal procedure is that COAS and VCOAS are not allowed to travel together outside of Delhi and one is to remain in the capital. In May 1983, Rao asked for special permission to take Sinha for a special conference of senior officers on the grounds that next chief should be part of such discussion. Rao even told Sinha that he should also hold similar conference next year after taking charge from Rao. In mid May 1983, Rao’s daughter Lalita visited Sinha’s daughter Minnie in United States and told her that Sinha will be taking over from Rao. Minnie called her father to congratulate him who responded that official decision has not been made. At the end of May, government announced that GOC-in-C Eastern Command Lieutenant General A. S. Vaidya will succeed Rao. This announcement surprised many in view of the tradition of adherence to seniority principle in Indian army. S. K. Sinha put in his papers for pre-mature retirement on his supersession.
Vaidya was commissioned two months after Sinha. The argument for selection of Vaidya was that he had more combat experience than Sinha which was correct. In Second World War, Sinha didn’t participate in combat and was guarding a POW camp, in 1947-48 Kashmir operations, he was serving as junior staff officer at Delhi and East Punjab command and during 1962 Indo-China war and he was instructor at Defence Services Staff College at Wellington. In 1965 war, Sinha was commanding 3/5th Gorkha Rifles in Calcutta far away from the theatre and in 1971 war, he was director of Pay Commission Cell of Adjutant General branch at army headquarters. In 1971 war, Sinha asked COAS General Sam Manekshaw for a combat posting referring to an old association. In 1946, Sam then Lieutenant Colonel was GSO-1, Major Yahya Khan (later General and President of Pakistan) was GSO-2 and Captain S. K. Sinha was GSO-3 at Military Operations (MO) directorate. Sinha told Sam that ‘old G-1 is going to war with old G-2 and old G-3 is being left out’. On the other hand, Vaidya commanded Deccan Horse in 1965 war winning MVC and commanded a brigade in 1971 war winning bar to MVC. It was alleged that Vaidya was not medically fit as he had suffered a heart attack but Krishna Rao states that Vaidya was in A medical category. Some suggest that Sinha was not chosen by Indira Gandhi as he was not willing to launch an operation against Sikh militants. Later, Sinha in an interview clarified that this was not the case but that he would have planned the operation differently. As events unfolded later, Vaidya was COAS when army launched operation against Sikh militants in 1984. In 1986, Sikh militants assassinated Vaidya who had just started to enjoy his retired life in Pune. Sinha’s supersession gave him extra three decades of a very productive life.
In most countries selection of army chief is viewed as a prerogative of the government and one seldom hears about any controversy. In India and Pakistan, there is lot of speculation and many a times controversies about the selection of army chief. The normal promotion system in both armies is such that top five or six senior lieutenant generals are equally qualified for the post and it is the prerogative of the head of the government to choose any one.
After retirement, Sinha served as High Commissioner to Nepal and later governor of Assam and Jammu & Kashmir. He wrote and lectured on military matters for few decades after his retirement. He was well respected for his upright conduct and especially how gracefully he handled his own supersession. There was lot of discussion in the media and even questions were raised in Parliament when he was superseded. He gave a very short but appropriate statement that ‘I do not question the decision of the government. I accept it. I have decided to fade away from the army. General Vaidya chosen to be the chief is a friend of mine and a competent general. I am sure the Indian army will flourish under his able leadership’. If any one lesson that senior officers of Indian and Pakistani armies can learn from the conduct of Sinha it is his conduct as an officer and a gentleman at the time of extreme disappointment in his life. Rest in peace old soldier and he is now in good company of many proud Jats and Johnny Gorkhas who served honorably.
S. K. Sinha. A Soldier Recalls (New Delhi: Lancer Publishers), 1992
Major General (R) V. K. Singh. Leadership in The Indian Army (New Delhi: Sage Publications), 2005
K.V. Krishna Rao. In The Service of the Nation – Reminiscences (New Delhi: Viking), 2001
November 30, 2016